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By Steven Yates
March 4, 2006

Teaching evolution continues stirring controversy. Most biology teachers see evolution as a proven fact. Many Christian parents, though, see the idea that human beings developed out of a lower form of life as an affront to their religious convictions, which include our having been created by God in a higher state and then falling from grace. To the former, evolution is just good science. To the latter, it is a central tenet of a different religious faith, that of secular humanism. Neither one respects the other. The biology teacher sees Christian parents as backward and anti-intellectual. Christian parents see evolutionists as arrogant and authoritarian.

School board members and those in state departments of education around the country are caught in the middle. They struggle to compromise as best they can. The latest attempt, here in South Carolina, is that of an Education Oversight Committee recommending that teachers instruct students how to �critically analyze� evolution. This is supposed to keep the door open to teaching alternative theories of the origin of life�such as intelligent design. Science teachers and administrators are already balking. One hears complaints like the following, from Linda Mobley, a science instruction director in one of the Richland County schools in Columbia (quoted in The State): �This puts the biology teacher in a terrible position. To critically analyze biological evolution would mean that we would have to bring up scientifically irrelevant schools of thought to disclaim the overwhelming relevant biochemistry, molecular biology, molecular genetics, behavior evidence that supports evolution. This makes us look like idiots.�

The situation is actually worse, though not for the reasons Mobley gives. Conducting any proper critical analysis of the theory of evolution requires us first to ask�and supply cogent answers to�questions like, What is a theory? How does it differ from a fact? What makes a theory scientific, as opposed to philosophical or metaphysical? Is it testability? Is it falsifiability? What is the relationship between theory and fact in science, or between theory and observation in science? Then we can examine evolution alongside our best answers to these questions. Is evolution scientific or does it contain hefty metaphysical components? What enables us to test it as a general idea? What would falsify it? Does it, in fact, encounter anomalies (verified facts or observations that do not fit the theory)? And so on. Such questions have been conducted for over a century by historians and philosophers of science. Our best answers are still being debated.

Complicating matters are theories such as Thomas S. Kuhn�s, who see mature sciences as governed by paradigms�systematic, groundbreaking achievements within a science that provide an ongoing set of premises for further research by defining additional problem sets and setting out criteria for what would solve them. The conceptual frameworks set forth by paradigms, however, are for the time of the paradigm�s dominance taken for granted and so not subject to criticism or falsification. As Kuhn describes it, paradigm change is a complex affair incorporating a substantial sociological component. So is a science�s dominant paradigm really �scientific�? Kuhn�s theory (expressed in his famous book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions published for the first time in 1962) created quite a stir when it appeared!

My point? I cannot imagine high school biology teachers being qualified to lead their students in discussions of such matters. Nor can I imagine their students being able to follow them. Many students in today�s high schools, after all, are unable to construct grammatical sentences or arrange them in coherent paragraphs. I can easily imagine them being unable to spell evolution, much less critically analyze it. What�s being asked of high school biology teachers is, indeed, hopeless�the kind of thing only ditzy bureaucrats could dream up.

This problem�whether to teach evolution only, whether to �critically analyze� it, or whether to give �equal time� to evolution and creation�comes up for one reason only: government control over the schools, which thereby become a battleground between advocates of the two competing worldviews in contemporary American society: Christian theism and naturalistic materialism. And it has encouraged disingenuousness among both. Although intelligent design is currently cashed out as invoking a designer to explain the irreducible complexity of biological systems in nature (and the universe itself) without specifying which designer or saying anything about his nature, nearly all advocates of intelligent design are Biblical Christians. This allows them to circumvent the criticism of having injected religion into public schools and violating the (nonexistent) �Constitutional separation between church and state.� On the other hand, not all supporters of Darwin�s theory of evolution would claim to be naturalistic materialists who deny God�s existence.

Some keep their science and their religion in separate baskets. This is sometimes a whole lot easier psychologically than having a consistent, fully integrated worldview. It seems to me that the consistent Darwinian is the one who invokes Occam�s Razor and tells the believers in God, �We have no need of your hypothesis.� (Note for the methodologically challenged: Occam�s Razor states that given two theories, T and T� and a specific body of observed facts to be explained, if T explains the facts with just one basic postulate and T� requires two or more logically independent postulates, other things being equal T is the better choice.)

There is no reason to think this clash of worldviews is going to be resolved by governmental, bureaucratic decree. Biology teachers schooled in the Darwinian paradigm cannot be compelled against their will to take intelligent design seriously; Christian parents, meanwhile, are bound to be angry and resentful when their children are taught as fact doctrines they regard as undermining their faith. The only reasonable solution, as I see it, is to end the government school monopoly.* Private schools may then teach evolution or they may teach intelligent design (or full-fledged Biblical creationism, for that matter), or they may teach both. Parents who choose to homeschool their children and teenagers may do the same thing, and there are now abundant tools available to help them. Homeschooled students will be far better prepared to engage the issues involved in thinking about origins when it comes time for high school biology. A large and growing body of research shows that homeschooled children and teenagers are typically years ahead of their government-schooled counterparts in every major subject area.

This is not a solution one can expect from a bureaucrat. The average education bureaucrat may believe she can negotiate this minefield, or even that she can �fix the public schools.� She can�t. Doing either of these calls for more outside-the-box thinking than bureaucrats can muster. So keeping Hanlon�s Razor in mind, she�s not being malicious when she suggests �critical analysis� of evolution as a path through the minefield. She�s being desperate. (Second note to the methodologically challenged: Hanlon�s Razor says, Don�t attribute to malice what can be explained through stupidity.)

Is there a danger here that Christian parents will simply inculcate their homeschooled children with their own religious beliefs? Of course that danger exists�if indeed it is a danger (I wouldn�t mind teaching Christian teens, since they will not curse in public, smoke, get stinking drunk, take drugs, stick all manner of objects in their faces, or bully other children). There is also the danger that secularized government schools are simply inculcating the majority of those children with a faith in that ultimate secular institution, government (a faith far deadlier, in this writer�s humble opinion, than belief in intelligent design). For some reason, the majority of Americans still seem willing to place their trust in government schools�probably because the majority of Americans today themselves graduated from these schools. Some fear that, somehow, emerging networks of private schools and Christian homeschoolers presage the coming of theocracy. The Christians I know don�t want to take over the government, however. They want to be left alone.

How can the government school monopoly be ended? Only if more and more parents are willing to take the plunge and either homeschool their children or send them to private schools�hopefully to institutions that have resisted the temptations of government entanglements (e.g., vouchers). The potential benefits go well beyond this little issue here, of evolution vs. intelligent design. What will result from education fully decentralized and out of the hands of bureaucrats is a growing population of better educated children, eventually teenagers, and eventually adults prepared to assume some responsibility in this culture. They will have plenty to say, and some of what they have to say won�t be particularly polite�given how their elders in both government and corporations have just about ruined the America their parents grew up in!

Regarding which worldview they will support, one thing should be clear: their decisions will be based on evidence, logic, and a sense of what works in culture and what does not work in the light of history and sometimes common horse sense. Their conclusions will not be based simply on what teachers say or on any other authoritarian gestures, since thinking human beings do not bow to authority. We�ll doubtless see some critical analysis of the theory of evolution�by those able to ask the right questions. We�ll find out if the government school biology teachers� confidence in the theory of evolution is warranted�and if the theory isn�t as well supported as today�s scientific community would have us believe, we�ll find that out, too.

*My use of the phrase government school monopoly is metaphorical, of course; laws don�t force anyone to send their kids to government schools (at least not yet!), so government schools aren�t a true monopoly. But private schools do not subsist at taxpayer expense; nor do homeschooling parents partake of the public dole. Some of us don�t even have kids; yet a fraction of our tax burden still goes to support the government school system. Government schools thus have tremendous advantages that have so far shielded them from the need to be truly competitive with far superior alternatives.

� 2006 Steven Yates - All Rights Reserved

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Steven Yates, Ph.D., is the most published professional philosopher in South Carolina. He teaches as a lowly adjunct instructor of philosophy at University of South Carolina Upstate (occupational punishment for his utter lack of political correctness and for pursuing issues from the standpoint of adherence to Constitutionally limited government, personal moral responsibility guided by a Christian worldview, and the rule of law as opposed to arbitrary rule by politicians, judges, and unelected bureaucrats). Later this month he will be joining the faculty at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, S.C., also as an adjunct.

He is the author of Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (San Francisco: ICS Press, 1994) and Worldviews: Christian Theism vs. Modern Materialism (delayed, but due out this summer). He also works on manuscripts with names such as In Defense of Logic and Philosophical Questions as well as on a science fiction novel, Skywatcher�s World. His articles and reviews have appeared on as well as and other websites. He has also published in academic journals including Inquiry, Metaphilosophy, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Reason Papers, Public Affairs Quarterly, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics and others.

He recently held a year-long fellowship with the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Ala., has appeared at conferences ranging from the American Philosophical Association to the South Carolina Society for Philosophy, and made numerous talk radio appearances. He spoke on �The Real Matrix and Sustainable Development� at the recent 6th Annual Freedom 21 National Conference in Reno, Nev. He lives in Greenville, South Carolina, where he also directs the Worldviews Project and is a member of the S.C. Chapter of Citizens Committee to Stop the FTAA.

His blog is at:












How can the government school monopoly be ended? Only if more and more parents are willing to take the plunge and either homeschool their children or send them to private schools...